Back in 2012, Historic Milwaukee and the Pabst Theater staged an event called “Envisioning The Seen,” a roundtable discussion featuring a group of local movers and shakers pondering the future of Milwaukee. As they often do, things eventually devolved into incessant complaining about how hard it was for young people to establish themselves as entrepreneurs in Milwaukee, how the city needed to better accommodate these brilliant-but-put-upon young people, blah blah blah something about Millennials. As I watched this unfold, I kept focusing on the one person on stage who wasn’t talking: the bartender, Mike Brenner, who was serving the panel beer throughout the discussion. Brenner was in the midst of raising money for his nascent Brenner Brewing at the time, and he was doing it entirely by himself. How strange, I thought, that the one person on stage not talking about how hard it was to do stuff was, you know, actually doing stuff.
I bring this up because today is Milwaukee Record‘s second anniversary, and I don’t think we would have reached this small-but-significant milestone without that “Fuck it, let’s just do this” attitude. Back in November 2013, when it was announced that the print edition of The Onion and the local chapter of The A.V. Club (which I edited) would be closing up shop, there was a lot of chatter about starting something new to take their place. I put out a few feelers myself—Is it possible to start something new? Something real?—but I always came back with the same dejected answers: Attempting to launch a self-sustaining niche website was a fool’s game. Online journalism was in its final death throes. Online advertising was even worse. I’d need a well-heeled financial backer at best, a dozen well-heeled financial backers at worst. Blah blah blah something about Millennials.
Then, at A.V. Club Milwauke’s final going-away party (I think there were, like, five of them), I bumped into Tyler Maas. I had edited AVCMKE for the past few years and he had written for it, but beyond that we didn’t really know each other. Still, we got good and shitty that night, and at the end of it we decided to start something new. Fuck it, we thought, let’s just do this. How hard could it be? Three months later, we announced the site. Four months later, Milwaukee Record was a thing.
Now, I don’t want to undersell how difficult and daunting those four months were (ask my wife how many times I screamed “WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING!” at my laptop), but I can’t stress enough how important that initial burst of “Fuck it” was. It’s one thing to get lost in an endless forest of panel discussions and conferences and morning coffee meet-ups dedicated to something you want to do. It’s another to actually do that thing you want to do. As the old saying goes, those who can’t do, teach. And, to paraphrase Woody Allen, those who can’t teach, teach “The (D)evolving Role of Digital Journalism and Online Advertising in the Post-Social Media Landscape.”
Not that we’re heroes or anything: we’re just a couple of schumcks who occasionally stand in line for 8,000 hours to meet 50 Cent, or eat at every George Webb in the world. The real heroes are the many wonderful writers who have contributed to this site over the past 24 months, and the many generous advertisers who have made it all possible. (Special shout-out to our recently christened Director of Advertising, Josh Hoppert. Thanks, Josh!) Without these fine folks and businesses, Milwaukee Record simply wouldn’t be a thing. Oh, and let’s not forget about the millions (!) of readers we’ve reached since April 7, 2014. You rule. We hope you’re enjoying what we’re doing. We already know you’re not shy about speaking up when you’re not.
So, as promised, here are a bunch of shitty site names Tyler and I were kicking around back in January 2014. “East Allis” and “Don’t 414” are still pretty funny.
Beer City Reader
Beer City Browser
Milwaukee Or Die
The Mill (or “The [insert word(s)] Mill”)
Good Land Ledger (or any suffix)
The V.A. Club Milwaukee (stands for Veterans of A.V. Club)